Prezza's legal action forces Academy 'squatters' to pay up

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The Independent Online

The society, which has been in existence since 1707, is housed in the palatial courtyard of Burlington House in London, more famously home to the Royal Academy of Arts.

But it has not - until now - paid a penny of rent nor had formal permission to be there. All well and good for the society, but rather less favourable to John Prescott's government department, which was losing out on a sizeable income from the property.

Last week, to the dismay of many of the society's fellows (and more than a year after he launched legal action to extract some rent) Prescott, above, managed to secure the promise of £60,000 per year. This has forced a major review of its financial position, but the SA's general secretary, David Gaimster, puts a brave face on proceedings.

"The old situation wasn't really satisfactory for either us or the Government," he tells me. "This allows us to plan for the future."

These plans must include a way to raise this extra money, as well as more than £120,000 in legal fees, which Prescott's action forced them to accrue.

On a happier note, the society will be able to put on its own exhibitions from time to time, kicking off in 2007 with "Making History", to celebrate its 300th anniversary.

* It has taken 50 years for her to make the transition but television's most famous transvestite is at last going to hit the big screen.

Barry Humphries tells me that his alter ego, Dame Edna Everage is to star in her own cinema biography.

At the grand old age of 71, Humphries is currently putting the finishing touches to his script, which begins with Dame Edna collapsing on stage and then sees her visit a psychiatrist, whose interview with the star leads to the story of her past.

"The film version of Dame Edna should start getting made next year," he says.

"We just need to do a third version of the script, and then we will go and raise the finances in Australia. There aren't many characters I can think of who have lasted as long as her."

The film will also reveal how Dame Edna's infant child was long ago abducted by a koala bear.

* Say what you will about the new breed of plastic celebrities, but one or two of them have bright business heads on those bare shoulders.

Take Abi Titmuss. The former nurse - most recently seen in television's Celebrity Love Island - has written a book of short stories littered with the names of so many commercial brands that it could be a luxury shopping manual.

In the first chapter alone, there are mentions of at least eight, leading Pandora to wonder whether any sort of sponsorship deals have been struck.

"There are no prearranged deals," explains her spokesman. "It's just her prose style."

Perhaps the budding author hopes to be showered in gifts from grateful firms. But the subject matter of the book - "Abi's deeply arousing fantasies ... where I get really racy" - might not please Rolex et al particularly.

* There was cause to choke on the breakfast kippers at Arundel Castle when the Duke of Norfolk opened his August issue of the Tatler magazine.

His Grace was (flatteringly) included at the respectable position of 75th in the toffs' bible's list of the country's 100 favourite party guests.

However, the large photo chosen to illustrate his appearance was of an altogether different sort of man: the boxer turned businessman Sol Kerzner.

While the Duke - who is also Earl of both Arundel and Surrey and holds several other peerages besides - maintains a suitably stiff upper lip about the snub, the Tatler's editor, Geordie Greig, is embarrassed.

"It's a critical but irritating subbing error," he tells me. "But we haven't had a complaint from either - yet."

* Having announced earlier this year that he was going on a diet, there are further signs that the original bad boy of Britpop, Liam Gallagher, is slipping into a respectable maturity.

According to his wife, Nicole Appleton, he has just bought himself a pet dog.

"It's a seven-month old English mastiff," she told me at a Macmillan Cancer charity fundraising bash.

"I don't know what people mean about dog owners looking like their pets. Mind you, I've got a Siamese cat and she's beautiful, but a bit cross-eyed."

If Liam is leaving his hell-raising days behind him, however, there is still hope for the rock fraternity. The dog, it seems is prepared to pick fights of its own.

"I don't know how much he weighs, but he's very heavy. He trod on a woman's foot the other day and you could tell it hurt," adds Appleton proudly.

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